Canada’s Immigration Targets For 2021

Canada has a long history of immigration. Since the late 1800s, the country has opened its borders to migrants from Asia, Europe, Africa, and even parts of the Middle East.

At the time of writing, Canada has more than 38 million residents. With an ageing population and low birth rates, the significant driver for the yearly population gains and losses seems to be one thing- immigration.

For the last two decades leading up to 2020, annual immigration levels have generally remained above the 200,000-mark. According to Statista, immigration peaked in 2016 when more than 320,000 immigrants landed in Canada. The vast majority of these immigrants came to Canada as skilled workers. Others were sponsored.

There is no doubt that the Canadian government recognizes how essential immigration is to Canada. The range of immigration programs available to foreign nationals alone attests to this.

Furthermore, with more and more of Canada’s native population nearing the age of retirement, the Liberal government has seen a need to set immigration goals for the coming years. On October 30, 2020, the Canadian immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, announced Canada’s immigration targets for the following year.

According to the announcement, the plan aims to bring in at least 1.8 million newcomers to Canada over the span of three years.

Immigration Trends Before 2020

2016 marked the highest point in Canadian immigration since 1913. Although the numbers never quite made it to those in the early 1900s, it may still be regarded as high by the Liberal government’s standards. In 2016, Canada became home to more than 323,000 new permanent residents. This figure was a sharp increment from the previous year.

However, since then, the country has never been able to duplicate these immigration levels. Following 2016 was a sharp drop in the number of newcomers to Canada. The number of immigrants decreased significantly by approximately 50,000 admissions in 2017.

While the subsequent years were characterized by a gradual recovery, the number of newcomers would slip back to nearly the same figures in 2017. In 2020, just over 284,000 immigrants landed in Canada. This was nearly 40,000 less than the number of newcomers in 2019.

2020’s Immigration Levels And COVID-19

during covid immigration levels in canada

There may have been several factors behind these trends leading up to the immigration levels of 2020. However, one that was explicitly addressed was the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Since its declaration as a pandemic in March 2020, COVID-19 has led to numerous restrictions on movement worldwide. Recommended by the World Health Organization, these were intended to contain the spread of the virus and allow national health care systems some “breathing room” to operate.

The lockdowns and quarantines have led to a cascade of events resulting in the cessation of numerous businesses and offices. In Canada, at least and businesses have either closed indefinitely or resumed operation albeit at a limited capacity.

The offices of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada were not spared from this trend. The limited operation of IRCC occurred concurrently with the imposition of heavy border restrictions. Due to IRCC’s COVID-19 readiness plan, travellers may only enter Canada for essential purposes. 

At the same time, many countries still have tight restrictions on international travel. This limits the number of people who can immigrate to Canada. The Liberal government has recognized the correlation between international and domestic restrictions and the “shortfall” of newcomers in 2020.

Immigration Targets For 2021 And Beyond

Canada’s need for immigrants remains. Hence, the Canadian government continues to prioritize immigration alongside its COVID-19 response.

Recognizing the contributions of immigrants to Canada during the pandemic, immigration minister Marco Mendicino announced the current administration’s plans for immigration. The immigration levels plan is to take effect in 2021 and will continue to 2023.

The immigration plan aims to address the deficits in immigration levels of 2020. The intended immigration level for 2020 was set in 2019. During this year, IRCC set the target at roughly 341,000 permanent resident approvals. However, as mentioned earlier, Canada was only able to meet three-fourths of the target due to COVID-19.

According to the Canadian immigration minister, the deficit meant a necessary increase in the targeted immigration level for 2021. In particular, from the original target of 350,000 new permanent residents, the intended figure for 2021 was to increase to 401,000.

The Canadian government also plans to increase immigration quotas by 10,000 newcomers for every succeeding year after 2021. In other words, the target for 2022 has been set at 411,000 new permanent residents. In 2023, the Canadian government will aim to bring in 421,000 new permanent residents.

If everything goes according to plan, Canada will have welcomed at least 1.2 million new permanent residents by 2023. The last time the country witnessed such levels of immigration was in 1913 when the country welcomed 410,000 immigrants.

IRCC’s Adjustments Pursuant To The 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan

With the goal of welcoming at least 401,000 new permanent residents yearly after 2021, IRCC has adjusted some of its immigration programs and policies.

Prioritization Of Economic Immigrants

For years, economic immigration has been the bread-and-butter of Canada when it comes to welcoming immigrants. In 2019, more than 200,000 new permanent residents came as skilled workers and entrepreneurs.

Nearly 50% of the admissions were through the Express Entry system. The remainder were from the skilled worker streams of the Provincial Nominee Program. As well, there were numerous applications approved for immigrants under the business immigration class.

With the trends in economic immigration as they are, the Canadian government once again looks to the direction of skilled workers and entrepreneurs to comprise the bulk of newcomers in 2021.

According to the immigration levels plan for 2021, 60% of immigrants would be admitted under the economic class.

Francophone Accommodation

One of the highlights of the 2021-2023 immigration levels plan is the IRCCs commitment to bring in more French-speakers.

Part of the changes to welcome more French-speaking immigrants is an increase in CRS points for French language skills. CRS (comprehensive ranking system) scores allow an applicant to be selected to apply for permanent residence. Higher CRS points increase the chances of being invited to apply.

For this reason, according to Marco Mendicino’s announcement, most francophones are projected to be admitted through the Express Entry system. Others might likely enter Canada via the Provincial Nominee Program.

At the time of writing, French-speakers are concentrated in Quebec. The accommodation of French-speaking immigrants can allow for more diversity in Canada and distribute francophones to other provinces outside Quebec.

More Admissions Of Refugees

To meet the 2021 objectives, IRCC has also pledged its commitment to accept more refugees. In addition, refugees and asylum-seekers will have an available pathway towards permanent residence.

This pathway comes in the form of Canada’s Economic Mobility Pathways Project. Through this program, refugees and asylum-seekers may be able to apply for permanent residence without having to apply for temporary residence in Canada.

The Economic Mobility Pathways Project will be open to refugees who have served as frontline workers in Canada’s efforts against COVID-19.

Potential Key Immigration Programs

With IRCC’s goals for 2021 and beyond, prospective applicants for permanent residence can expect heightened intake and activity in these immigration programs:

Express Entry

For years, IRCC’s Express Entry system has facilitated economic immigration to Canada. Through this system, Canada has been able to bring in skilled workers.

The plan’s leanings towards economic immigration can make Express Entry an important source of skilled immigrants. Even during the pandemic, IRCC has continued to accept and process Express Entry applications.

As well, the adjustments made for French-speakers opens immigration up to a wider audience. The potential influx of French-speakers can allow more provinces to have more francophones.

Provincial Nominee Program

Alongside Express Entry, many economic immigrants also find permanent residence in Canada via provincial nomination.

In the years to come, Canadian provinces and territories may be encouraged to nominate more applicants for permanent residents.

Family And Spousal Immigration

family or spousal sponsorship canada 2021

In the announcement made on October 30, 2020, the Canadian immigration minister emphasized the importance of family reunification.

The goal for 2021 is to bring in 103,500 family members of permanent residents and Canadian citizens. This may lead to increased admission through Canada’s various sponsorship programs.


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Canada’s immigration levels to take a direct hit. In an attempt to “catch-up” with its past immigration levels plans, the Canadian government has set ambitious immigration targets for 2021.

In its pursuit to bolster its immigrant population, the Canadian government has made adjustments to its programs to attract more skilled workers, entrepreneurs, and family members.

Only time will tell what other amendments will be made to the country’s existing immigration policies and programs.

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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